Scientists discovered the mechanism explaining how cell walls in plants are constructed

Human life depends heavily on plant life. We use plants for food and we also feed them to animals. Plants produce oxygen we breathe, clean the air and soil and help regulate Earth’s temperature. And we still don’t know everything about them. Now an international team of scientists, involving researchers from the University of Adelaide discovered a new biochemical mechanism that is fundamental to plant life. 

Scientists already characterised four out of 36 xyloglucan xyloglucosyl transferases in barley. In the future this could improve food production. Image credit: Stiller Beobachter via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Plants are quite complex life forms. They have their specialized cells, tissues and organs. Connection between all of them has to be well-coordinated for the plant to grow, prosper and replicate. Plant cell walls are absolutely essential for this, because they provide the shape for the plant as well as facilitate the intercellular communication. Furthermore, cell walls play a role in plant-microbe interactions. Up until this new research we didn’t know much about them at all, even though one previous study uncovered the role of xyloglucan xyloglucosyl transferase enzymes in accelerating the remodelling of cell walls.

Now scientists were able to observe this enzymatic reaction between the xyloglucan and pectin carbohydrates. By observing these reactions in barley scientists discovered a chemical reaction, which results in the production of a hetero-polysaccharide, which is a carbohydrate composed of chemically distinct components. Essentially, scientists managed to identify and describe different components of plants’ cell walls. For now they have identified four out of 36 xyloglucan xyloglucosyl transferases in barley, which is to say that a lot of further research is still ahead.

At first scientists will work out how cell walls in barley are constructed, but then the same methodology could be applied to other crops, such as wheat and rice.  Maria Hrmova, leader of the project, said: “This discovery is a new building block in our understanding of how the cell wall could be constructed. Once you understand how something is made, you can then look at constructing or de-constructing it in different ways”.

A better understanding of plants’ cell walls could help improving them, creating higher quality foods. Stronger, better cell walls could help making plants more resilient to various pests and diseases. Furthermore, this research could help obtaining biofuels in a more efficient way.

Humans have been using plants for their advantage for thousands and thousands of years. It is time to learn to use them better and more efficiently. Cell walls are unbelievably important. Improving their design through bioengineering we could make plants more resistant, stronger and more suitable for biofuels.


Source: University of Adelaide

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